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Jun 10, 2008 03:08 PM

Are you giving a restaurant a fair review?

Is it fair to go in to a restaurant with expectation based on reviews and then either not be impressed or worse yet, be disappointed? Are you being completely objective and non-partial or is your judgment somehow affected by your expectations.

Is it the same thing as watching a preview of a movie and then rating the actual movie as so-so because you already knew of the good parts from the trailer?

While I do not subscribe to my friends theory that, "if you lower your expectation, you will never be disappointed", I am interested in hearing thoughts from fellow chowhounds.

Is there a strategy that some of you are using which helps you in not getting caught up in the hype or rave reviews of a place and merely enjoying the place for what it is when you go out?

Any feedback is appreciated. Thanx.

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  1. Easy for me. I believe all reviewers have an agenda.

    If I want a good overview of a restaurant, I come here or go to Yelp.

    Then I try it out for myself, at least twice, and since I never lie, I always believe me in the end.

    1. I don't think anybody can be completely objective and non partial when it comes to food. It's not a science experiment (and even with science experiments, biases can play a role). I TRY to be unbiased as much as possible. If something didn't meet my expectations, I'll say that it wasn't as good as I've heard about. I remember being disappointed by my first In n Out experience. It's been so hyped that I thought it was going to be like an orgasm in my mouth. It's a good fast food burger, but by no means life-altering. On the SF and LA boards, I have seen visitors talking about how they have to squeeze In n Out in their already stuffed itinerary because they've heard so much about it. After that experience, I try to not have any expectations and try to enjoy the food for what it is. DH, however, tends to get more disappointed if he's read a lot of good reviews. For example, after seeing Bourdain say he's had the best pig ever at Ibu Oka in Bali, he was determined to go there. So we did. All he kept talking about on the plane was that pig. I thought it was outstanding. DH, while he loved it, wasn't convinced that it was the best pig in the world. I think he had built it so much in his head that he was disappointed. I think he expected the pig to rise up from the spit and dance or something -- because it was really really good! He was also disappointed by Eleven Madison Park's famed suckling pig as well because he's heard so much about it. We're flying cross-country next month because we were able to score reservations at the French Laundry. We're going for a weekend, but we basically planned the trip around FL. So there's a lot hinging on this one meal. I keep telling him and myself not to get too excited over this meal. I think being cognizant of it helps, but as human beings, we all have some sort of expectations.

      1. A review is just one person's opinion. I usually don't read them at all (I don't live in a place where people review a lot of the restaurants!), but I prefer to make up my own mind about a place. My expectations have more to do with what the place looks like, what's on the menu, how the place smells, how friendly/knowledgeable the waiters are, and lots of other clues.

        But as far as reviews go, it also depends on who's doing the reviewing. If it's a friend whose taste I know well, that means more to me than what Frank Bruni says. Of course, someday I may find out that Bruni and I have similar taste, but at the moment his opinion wouldn't have that much weight compared to other factors.

        If you're really concerned about getting too caught up with reviews (and I think a lot of people depend way too much on others' opinions about what they eat), I'd strongly suggest not reading/listening to them.

        1. This question has come up on another board, too. There's a restaurant that consistently gets great reviews that I tried and was disappointed. I was told my expectations were too high, by fans of the restaurant (to be expected, I guess, going against CW) and that restaurants aren't always going to provide a "wow" experience--though for me, spending $300+ per couple should be a "wow" experience.

          On the same lines, if you eat at excellent restaurants then you're also going to compare anything new to your experiences. When you come down to it, it's always going to be subjective and "fair" is in the eye of the beholder. How much you've enjoyed the food, regardless of baggage, is what counts. One of the best meals I've had is a can of sardines and loaf of fresh bread when I was exhausted, interrailing through Europe in college.

          1. I typically don't read reviews of restaurants that I go to. In Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl talked about the newspaper's perception of their intended readership. She no longer focused on the reader who would be likely to go to the restaurant; instead, she provided a review that was aimed at the person who likely wouldn't go there. After all, the readership of the times is much broader than the number of people who could fit into an of these places or for that matter the number of people who could afford to go there. Her writing was designed to be a virtual experience of a restaurant. In retrospect, that's not an ideal preparation to go.

            I read reviews most often in that spirit, escapist fiction. I read the Times Reviews, Jonathan Gold, even occasionally Chicago Tribune's reviews, knowing that I am extremely unlikely to go to these places.

            As for local reviews, they have a less concealed agenda, and the writing is typically pretty poor, and one review looks much like another. I look around for better blogs (or chowhound) instead. There's often less of a buildup because even raves rarely lavish the minute detail of a well-crafted review.